There is a point in the growing season, that it almost feels as if the tomatoes will never ripen. The plants sit, loaded down with green globes, waiting for something, of what you’re not sure. You check every day, peering into each bush hoping to find the red gems inside, but to no avail. Then finally, they start and before you know it, you are inundated with tomatoes. This is a good thing. Tomatoes are one of the most versatile vegetables in the garden: they can go on sandwiches, in salads, canned whole, chopped or crushed, cooked down into sauce, juiced, frozen, processed into an endless array of condiments, the list goes on. And for each culinary use, there is a specific tomato that breeders and gardeners have selected for over the years.

At my house, we eat what we can fresh, and turn the rest into chopped tomatoes or sauce for pizzas and soups later in the year, and likewise, we always grow a couple of varieties of tomatoes: big hearty ones with few seeds that are great for slicing and chopping that break down well in sauce, and smaller cherry varieties ideal for snacking and salads. Unfortunately, this year, due in part to a very wet spring, our cherry tomatoes did not fare well, luckily we had planted a number of Black Vernissage as a test crop, and while not a cherry tomato per se, they are on the smaller side with most fruits smaller than a golf ball and for all intents and purposes, they eat just like a cherry.

<img class=”alignright size-full wp-image-300″ src=”https://libertymindedagrarian.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/spiced-e1533295060622.jpg?w=310&#8243; alt=”spiced.jpg” width=”310″ height=”344″ />Making sauce, while enjoyable the first seven quarts, can become something of a burden, especially when it’s 95°F outside, and you are filling the already hot kitchen with more heat and steam. And let us be serious, no one is really salivating when it comes time to crack open a jar of sauce; it is an excellent addition to a dish, but you can not snack on it by itself. Of course, we add some of our cherry-types to sauce for additional flavor, but we also like to turn many of our cherry tomatoes into a healthy garden snack that can last well beyond a tomatoes natural shelf life: sun-dried tomatoes. It may be up for debate as to whether or not these actually qualify as sun-dried tomatoes, but that is neither here nor there, the fact of the matter is they are a delicious snack and exceptionally easy to make.

This year we used our Black Vernissage, but because of their larger size, we had to cut them up into quarters or even sixths; when using typical marble size cherry tomatoes, we only cut them in half. Once cut up we toss them in a bowl with some spices. Sometimes we will stick to traditional Italian flavorings, and other times we attempt more exotic flavors – a personal favorite is salt, cocoa powder, cayenne and olive oil – but whatever flavorings you choose, make sure to use salt and olive oil as these ingredients help speed the drying process and mitigate potential mold growth. Once the tomatoes are thoroughly coated, they are laid out – so as not to touch each other – on old dehydrator trays, or cookie sheets, or whatever is easily movable and available. Sometimes with juicier tomatoes, it is better to start them on solid trays so the juice does not drip to the surface below. Once everything is laid out, I put them in my van.

<img class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-301″ src=”https://libertymindedagrarian.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/tom-car-e1533295125254.jpg?w=331&#8243; alt=”tom-car.jpg” width=”331″ height=”414″ />Yes, you read that right. In the summer, my van works as the ideal solar oven. I put the trays on the dashboard and let the sun do the work. If you have vents (like I do in my man-van) you can crack them, or you can just crack the windows a little, but some air flow is vital. After the first day, when most of the dripping juice has evaporated, I will move the tomatoes onto some aluminum screen that I have set aside just for this purpose, or you can use the screen inserts from a dehydrator if they are not in use elsewhere. Do not stack your trays and make sure they are laid out in the full sun. The olive oil and salt help keep mold at bay, but so do the heat, sun and air flow. I have also found that turning the tomatoes over so the skin side is facing the sun after the first day helps to speed drying. The whole process takes two to three days, depending on the weather, but it is important to check them often; believe it or not, they can go too long and then they not only become too hard to chew, but they can actually burn.

<img class=” wp-image-302 aligncenter” src=”https://libertymindedagrarian.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/sun-dried-tom-hands-e1533295397416.jpg&#8221; alt=”sun dried tom hands” width=”318″ height=”436″ />Once cured, we try to get them in jars with rubber gaskets before the kids eat them all. They make great additions to salads and pastas or simply as individual snacks, and they make your car smell garden fresh!

<a href=”https://homesteadsandhomeschools.com/2018/02/14/homestead-hack-4-paint-your-tools/”>Homestead Hack #4: Paint Your Tools</a>
<a href=”https://homesteadsandhomeschools.com/2018/01/31/homestead-hack-3-steam-your-eggs/”>Homestead Hack #3: Steam Your Eggs!</a>
<a href=”https://homesteadsandhomeschools.com/2018/01/17/homestead-hack-2-steal-the-batteries/”>Homestead Hack #2: Steal the Batteries!</a>
<a href=”https://homesteadsandhomeschools.com/2018/01/03/homestead-hack-1-label-your-eggs/”>Homestead Hack #1: Label Your Eggs!</a>

Fermented Fridays: Ginger Bug!

One of the reasons behind homesteading for us is the cutting down of stuff; a limiting of trash. Unfortunately – or not – a lot of this garbage comes from food packaging. Not only can we (most probably) all agree that refined foods are bad for you, but they also generate some of the most garbage – plastic bags inside of boxes, wrapped in cellophane? This means that the sleeve of saltines is one of the first things to go, which isn’t a huge effort for us, but a little tougher than kicking the saltines to the curb is our seltzer habit. Aside from milk, seltzer is the only beverage we buy from the store.

Embarking on a seltzer-less journey, I really wanted to find some sort of substitute for the whole family that could still give us that mouth cleansing effervescence found in a can of seltzer. Of course (mediocre) beer is easy enough to make, but even with a low ABV, it could easily result in trouble, especially if we start giving it to the kids, so that’s out. Then there is kombucha, which my daughter will devour, but my son is repulsed by. So I turned my eye toward soda.

Our kids very rarely have soda – mostly at church functions and birthday parties – as it isn’t exactly what I’d call child-friendly or healthy. As I thought back to college, making a few batches of Birch beer soda, and I remembered adding sugar. Yes the yeast feed off the sugars, but we’re not going for long standing ferments here, we’re just looking for some carbonation so the potential to limit the sugar going into a recipe is, to some degree, up to the cook.

You can make soda a few different ways, most recently it seems that soda making machines are all the rage, but that sort of defeats the purpose of getting rid of stuff. You can also just add sugar water or juice to seltzer – again, defeating the less-junk purpose. But believe it or not, there is a way to make soda naturally, with lacto-fermentation. This is the path we decided to take. Where as kombucha needs a SCOBY to grow, soda needs a bug, and once you have a bug, the soda possibilities are only limited by your imagination. And there are a plethora of books out there to help you on your journey to

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It’s a bug: ginger on the bottom, bubbles on the top.

soda making master.

Once you’ve made a bug – or otherwise obtained a culture – the process is fairly simple: boil some water, add some sugar, add some flavorings, cool, add some bug, bottle. But before you go making a bug or some soda, there are some things to consider:

  1. Grolsch style bottles are recommended, though they should be burped during the fermentation process. No one wants a ginger ale cocktail bomb in their pantry.
  2. For the cocktail bomb reason, we prefer old plastic soda bottles. (Plastic bottles don’t really create shrapnel.)
  3. Carbonation is fleeting. We’ve found that once a bottle is fully opened. Soda should be consumed with in a couple of days lest it become a flat, nasty, mess. This is why we use 1-liter or smaller bottles. (Also, Grolsch bottles are smaller, single serving sizes.)
  4. Like beer, you can filter your soda and remove some of the flavorings before bottling, or you can leave them for an unfiltered taste and appearance. Once soda has become carbonated, it’s very hard to filter the flavorings without going flat.

Making a ginger bug is a fairly simple process. It requires a bit of prolonged attention, but very little time. To make a bug here’s what you’ll need:

35-45 grams of finely chopped ginger
35-40 grams of white sugar
2 cups of water
Quart Size Mason Jar

Before we make the bug, we process all our ginger in the food processor; after we’re done with what we need for the day, we put it back in the fridge until the next day we need it. In apples and berries, the naturally occurring yeast that turn apples to cider are found on the skin, so we include our ginger skin when making a bug, but you don’t have to. As for the sugar, you can experiment around with different types, but when it comes down to it, simple white sugar seems to be the best. Remember, honey is an antimicrobial, so while you may be able to play around with individual batches and honey, it will not work for your bug.

On day one add 15 g (or 1 large tablespoon) of ginger to your mason jar. Add an equal amount of ginger, and your two cups of water. Stir it up so the sugar dissolves. Put it in a warm place and let it rest until tomorrow. (Supposedly, metal kills yeast and shouldn’t be used to make breads and other products that contain microorganisms. Growing up we always used a fork to make pizza dough and never had a problem. All the same, we use a wooden spoon now.)

On day two, add 5 g of ginger and an equal amount of sugar. Stir and let rest.

Continue this process for a total of five days – so three more days – or more if you are in a colder climate and your bug doesn’t seem to be generating much activity. You’ll know your bug is alive when bubbles start amassing on the surface. You also can start smelling faintly floral yeasty activity within the jar and if you’re quite, you can hear the bubbles popping.

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A lovely coating of yeasty respiration.

Once your bug is formed, you can use it right away to make some naturally fermented

Gingerale
Ginger Ale from a homemade Ginger Bug!

soda, or you can wait. There are two options to waiting, you can store it on the counter or in the fridge. If you store the bug on the counter, it will remain active and will need to

be fed nearly daily 5 g of ginger and an equal amount of sugar. If you store the bug in the fridge, it will still need to be fed, but on a weekly basis. To be honest, I’ve had a bug in the fridge that I’ve forgotten about for three weeks, and it survived.

After making your first batch of soda – most recipes call for ½ cup of bug – you need to replenish your bug. Add half a cup of water, 5 g of ginger and 5 g of sugar. Typically after use we like to leave the bug on the counter for a day or two (feeding it each day) to really get active and incorporate the new water before we throw it back in the fridge. It’s been a fun experiment

for both parents and kids and tastes pretty good, too, though I can’t say it’s a permanent staple in our fridge.

Fermented Friday #1: Oatmeal!

Fermented Fridays: Oatmeal!

I can’t tell you when I started dabbling in ferments. My earliest recollection is trying to make some country wine in my basement when I was probably thirteen or fourteen. It was a total crap shoot. I put some sugar in a mason jar, threw in some fruit and a bit of yeast, then flipped the jar over into a wider basin of water to create a seal of sorts. Needless to say it turned out poorly and was unsuccessful. (I’ve since made some palatable stuff…) Into college I dabbled with brewing beer and trying to make some ‘shine, but it wasn’t until I lived in South Korea for a year that I really started a love affair with fermented foods, all thanks to kim chi. It is a goal of mine to one day make some kim chi that actually tastes like an ajumma made it, and not some stateside grocer, but that’s a story for another day.

There are a million different fermented dishes you can make, some are time consuming, require special tools, and mountains of time, others, like oatmeal, are extremely simple. I first came across this idea reading one of Sandor Katz’s books. (I couldn’t tell you which one; they’re all excellent.) Almost everyone these days have heard of overnight oats. Some folks will soak them overnight, some cook them overnight in a slow cooker, some soak them and eat them raw the next morning. It may sound loopy, but here’s the basic reason why:

Oats and other grains contain phytic acid. Phytic acid is known to bind to certain nutrients therefore hindering the bodies ability to absorb these nutrients. Soaking (particularly in an acidic environment) helps to break this phytic acid down. You can achieve an acidic environment by using whey – kefir, yogurt, etc. – apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, or anything else you can think of that might lower the pH. You can also skip the additives and really let those oats ferment naturally lowering the pH of the solution. Typical instructions will call for the oats to be soaked in cold water, or even left in the refrigerator, over night; the problem is, this cooler environment doesn’t allow for much fermentation. Ideally, you want to soak your oats on the counter from 12-24 hours to really break down the phytic acid, but there’s more.

Fermented foods have particularly rich flavors, sweet and sour, tart, tangy, and dense. If all you want to do is break down some phytic acid, soak your oats for 12-24 hours in a warm environment. If you want all the funky flavors of a delicious fermented dish here’s our technique.

raisins
Raisins, covered in spices.

Before I even throw the oats in the mason jar, I toss in a handful or raisins. The raisins add some sweetness and some naturally occurring yeast (which is a good thing.) If you don’t have raisins, other fruits with naturally occurring yeast can work – berries, apples. Once the raisins are in, I add my spices: usually some fresh minced ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric. When I can find it, I’ll use garam masala, or if I’m having a later afternoon snack, I’ll throw in a bit of curry powder. If I

oatmeal
Ready to wait. By the end, that banana will not be recognizable.

want it a little sweeter, I’ll add in some ripe banana. Really the possibilities are endless, and it is up to you and your taste buds

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Ready to go! The oats are floating, the bubbles are bubbling.

The amount of oats, and size of container I use depends on who’s going to be eating them with me. My son is not a big fan, but my daughter will eat a whole cup if I allow her. Once the oats are in, I cover them with water, screw on a lid, and let them go. On average, I’ll wait a good two days, though less when it’s summer, and a little longer in the winter. The trick is to really let the fermentation kick in. Typically, mid-way through day two, I’ll start to see tiny bubbles welling up from below and it begins to look like one big gloppy mess. When I see these things, I’m know I’m good to go.

These really are one of the simplest fermented dishes you can make. Once you’re happy with how the little guys are doing with your oats, it’s time to cook them. Dump them in a pain, and cook. I use a low heat, and stir. Because they’re so dense and gloppy, they tend to burn a little bit if you let them go without stirring for too long. If they’re too thick coming out of the jar, you can always add a little water.

When the oats are warmed thoroughly, we serve them! (Imagine that…). Typically we don’t add sugar, but on occasion my daughter can convince me that they need a little Maple Syrup. Either way, they’re delicious.

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A little butter and milk never hurt anyone. (It’s yellow from the turmeric.)

Addendum: We have experimented with adding chia to the ferment, this requires more water. We have also tried this with grits, and steel cut oats. The soak times for steel cut oats is a little longer, but both turned out equally as well. Other ways to reduce phytic acid is to sprout the item in question (think beans.)

I’m always searching for fun easy ferments (or even more difficult ones) so if you have any favorites, let me know in the comments.